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Master Baizhang: Role Model for Buddhists

Zen Master Baizhang Huaihai succeeding Zen Master Mazu Daoyi in Tang Dynasty established a systematic set of rules for Buddhist temples. This is known as “Mazu built the jungle and Baizhang established the rules.” Zen Master Baizhang advocated the combination of Zen and agricultural life that emphasized “no work, no food”.

At first, Zen Master Baizhang met a lot of hardships. Since Buddhism upheld the monastic disciplines, Zen Master Baizhang’s improvement of combining agricultural life and Zen was criticized as paganism. He got the name “Baizhang” because the temple he hosted was on the top of Mount Baizhang. Apart from leading the monks to practice Buddhism, Zen Master Baizhang did all the hard work in person every day. Supporting himself with his own labor, Zen Master Baizhang took serious attitudes towards daily chores and never asked others to do them for him.

Gradually, Zen Master Baizhang grew older and older, but he still climbed up the mountain to carry firewood and went to the field to do farm work every day, for combining Zen and agricultural life meant supporting oneself by growing one’s own food. His disciples hadn’t the heart to see him engaged in hard work at such an old age, so they urged him not to go and work with them any more. However, Zen Master Baizhang persisted, “I don’t deserve others working for me. If one does not work at all, he will become a useless person!”

His disciples failed to change Zen Master Baizhang’s mind, so they hid his tools, such as carrying poles and hoes, so as to stop him from working.

Zen Master Baizhang had no choice but went on a hunger strike. His disciples were worried and asked, “Why don’t you eat or drink?”

Zen Master Baizhang said, “No work, no food!”

His disciples could do nothing but returned his tools and let him work with them. Zen Master Baizhang’s spirit of “no work, no food” makes him a role model for all time!

Some people think that practicing meditation needs to get rid of the secular life and even work. In fact, if you stop working and get rid of the secular life, where can you find Zen? In order to solve the common problems of Zen monks, Zen Master Baizhang not only bore in mind the principle of “no work, no food”, but also advocated that “Zen exists in carrying firewood and water.”

No matter it is praying to the Buddha or practicing meditation, practicing Buddhism does not provide excuses for laziness. It is hoped that modern Zen Buddhists can listen to Zen Master Baizhang’s words!


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